Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sermon: The Gospel in Times Such as These

         Times such as these—in the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah we hear words of condemnation, doom and gloom about a whole variety of societal sins, all this preparing the folk for exile in Babylon.
(Thursday Afternoon Bible Study Folk, this section loosely parallels the first 29 chapters of Jeremiah’s words—talk of collective punishment and no justice)
Then, just as Jeremiah 30 does a 1-80 and becomes the book of Consolation, so too, out of nowhere, “Comfort o’ Comfort my people.” God, the Lover who will literally move mountains and leap valleys—will go through the long, lonely, desolate desert so that He might gently take His people in His arms as Isaiah proclaims, “Here is your God!”
         Among a people torn from their homes, homesick in Babylon, there is Gospel.

         Times such as these—when the sadistic and unfaithful family of Herod was in power, and the awful might of the Roman Empire stood astride the whole world. When it felt like a third Exodus, a second Exile… even as God’s people dwelled in the land.
         At such a time, comes a new beginning. At such a time, comes prophetically strange actions by John, which point to the coming one. At such a time comes the Good News about Jesus the Christ.
         Among a people occupied both physically and spiritually, seemingly disconnected from the promises of God, there is Gospel.

         The Gospel in Times Such as These.
Let us pray

The Gospel in Times Such as These

         I remember the weeks surrounding Hurricane Irene
—the weeks surrounding the Sunday I didn’t preach my trial sermon here…
I was wrestling with the question of whether, if the vote went my way, I should accept a call here.
         And I was truly unsure.
         Don’t get me wrong –I was impressed by the call committee:
Frank was clearly competent.
Michelle had dreams of feeding the hungry.
Joe was the most sincere man I’d ever met.
Peggy asked good tough questions.
Jillian was an active young person in the church.
And Cathy’s consistent openness was a joy.

         For that matter, I’d met the council and committee liaisons—both of them functioned—that’s not always the case, so that was a big plus.
         My uncertainty—to use an old cliché—wasn’t you, it was me.
         For three of the four years I was in Seminary, I was being trained to serve in an African American congregation, in a city. I did Field Ed. in West Philly, Internship in North West Baltimore, and a good number of my classes with the Urban Theological Institute.

         And I worried those experiences shaped me in such a way that this congregation and I would have a very different understanding of the way the world works,
so much so that it would be difficult to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ here.

         And there have been hiccups here and there, but by and large we’ve made it through, and love one another as well as congregation and Pastor ought.

         I image Times Such as These—one and a half weeks after the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson and 4 days after the decision in Staten Island—might be one of those moments where, because of my experiences in the Black Church and in communities of color, I likely am understanding the way the world works very differently than the majority of the congregation.
         And it’s not just a case of one weird pastor or one weird congregation
—we’re not outliers here.
As Presiding Bishop Eaton recently said, “Following the decisions by grand juries in Ferguson and New York, it has become clear that we have different experiences of life in this country.”

         And I think in Times Such as These it’s worth naming at least one of these divisions
—There is a division between Blue and Black perspectives.

         The Blue perspective is that of police and folk who deeply value law and order.
Some people are just tired of hearing about these deaths—they want to get back to Christmas… or at least Advent.
Other’s feel that if Eric Garner and Michael Brown had not fallen afoul of the Law they’d be alive today—the potential price of criminality, no matter how small, is death.
Still other folk simply understand that cops got it tough, that their job is to keep chaos at bay, and in such a situation severity serves much better than restraint.

And as someone who grew up in Wyoming I’m not naïve, I know when the WTOTC, the local branch of Neo-Nazi’s back home in the ‘90’s, wanted to torch black churches or synagogues or threatened to assassinate judges, it was nice to know there were sheriffs, the ATF, and the FBI, around to discourage that kind of behavior.

There is also a black perspective to all this—the perspective of African Americans, People of Color, and their allies.
For whom these latest deaths are so familiar—to quote a friend “that’s just day to day life for me.”
These deaths are part of a pattern that goes back to Jim Crow, goes back to Slavery, goes back to the Middle Passage when 15% of kidnapped Africans never made the journey from West Africa to the Americas,
and no one seemed to care that they died.
I know when I heard about Michael Brown’s death, my first thought was of my surreal experience outside the local Episcopal Church in Baltimore, when a heavily armored team of police swarmed the area and attempted to arrest some of the local priest’s Confirmation students because they were black males, and therefore fit the description of a nearby shooter.
When we protested that they were all good kids one of the policemen suggested to the priest that if she didn’t shut up he would shoot her.

By now, most you have seen the video of the choking of Eric Garner, what most of you haven’t seen was the second tape that was of the 7 minutes it took for someone to do something about his physical distress. 7 minutes of police and paramedics doing what appeared to be the least they can for the man as he lay dying.
It reminded me of a colleague who heard of the death of one of her parishioners, and made it to his apartment in time to see the paramedics push the body out of the fire escape… I know the South Plainfield rescue squad would never do such a thing, but in an urban mainly African American city—maybe not so uncommon.

         All that to say, “it has become clear that we have different experiences of life in this country,” which I worried about, that week before I preached my call sermon here at St. Stephen.
         My dad, ever practical, told me, “You need money for student loans, insurance for your heart, and, frankly, you really need to move out of the Lundahl’s attic.”
         That didn’t convince me—after all Harry Potter lived in a cupboard under the stairs for years!
         But my mom said something that got to me, “White Suburban people need Jesus too Chris.” And so, by the time I arrived here I already reconciled myself to staying if you’d have me.

         And brothers and sisters, The Gospel in Times Such as These—times of vastly differing experiences, is this, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And he has!
         We’re Baptized into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection
—we’ve put him on whole cloth!
We are made in the image of God and redeemed in the Image of Jesus Christ.
Look at someone you disagree with
—they’re Christ to you!
This means Black Lives Matter,
This means Blue Lives Matter,
This means, “White Suburban people need Jesus too.”

         In Baptism all are one
—the divisions we construct are ultimately of no value, they are rubbish compared with the unsurpassed glory of Christ Jesus.
They will not stand before Jesus’ prayer to his Heavenly Father, “That they may all be one, just as you Father are in me and I in you—that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe.”

In Baptism is forgiveness
—Jesus has brought us from death to life,
bought us from Sin and made us his own
—we are forgiven
—it’s already been done,
So we can do the hard work of the Good News of Jesus Christ,
unafraid of admitting where we’re wrong, conceding points,
unburdened of insisting on our own righteousness, or rightness,

because Jesus is our rightness and righteousness we can listen,
really listen, without hidden agendas, or talking points, or waiting with a retort.

Because Christ is our courage, we can stay in difficult conversations even when it makes us uncomfortable, and even when we fear being misunderstood.

Among a people divided and tired and angry, waiting for Christmas in the midst of a crisis, there is Gospel. A+A

1 comment:

Eileen Crawford said...

Thanks Chris. Thoughtful. Relevant . You took a few scary chances and went there anyway.